Estranged spouse sued in children's deaths


A Westminster woman, who was badly injured in a 1991 automobile accident that critically injured her husband and claimed the lives of their three young children, has sued her husband for more than $3 million.

In a 14-count suit filed in Carroll Circuit Court late Friday, Betty Lou Corbett says Russell Michael Corbett, her estranged husband, negligently caused the death of their children.

"Had Russell M. Corbett not been negligent . . . this accident never would have occurred, [Ms. Corbett] would not have sustained her injuries and her three minor children would be alive today," the suit says.

Ms. Corbett says her husband was "negligent, reckless and careless."

Since the accident, she has suffered "mental anguish, emotional pain and suffering and loss of her children's love, society, companionship, comfort and protection," the suit says.

On July 7, 1991, Mr. Corbett was driving on Route 97 in Silver Run in a 1991 Ford Taurus station wagon leased to him by his employer, Healthco International Inc. of Owings Mills.

Healthco, a dental supplies distributor, was named as a co-defendant in Ms. Corbett's suit.

The family and a 15-year-old baby-sitter were on their way to a birthday party when the station wagon crossed the center line of the rain-soaked highway and struck an oncoming Jeep Cherokee head-on.

The couple's three children -- Jacqueline Michelle Corbett, 5; Russell Michael Corbett Jr., 3; and Loren Cassidy Corbett, 1 1/2 -- were pronounced dead at the scene.

Police said the children might have been killed when heavy objects -- including a 60-pound dental light fixture -- in the back of the station wagon fell forward onto their heads in the crash.

Two of the children were wearing seat belts and the baby was in a safety seat, police said at the time.

The baby-sitter, who also was seriously injured, was treated at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

Neither parent was wearing a seat belt, police said, and both were seriously injured. Police said an air bag saved Mr. Corbett's life.

Mrs. Corbett spent 10 days at Shock Trauma, and Mr. Corbett was taken to Washington County General Hospital. Both spent months in rehabilitation therapy.

"She's had multiple, multiple surgeries, and she can't even walk," Ms. Corbett's attorney, Stanley Kantor, said yesterday. "She has suffered extraordinary, extraordinary pain."

Ms. Corbett recently underwent hip replacement surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. She is recovering at home, her attorney said.

Mr. Corbett didn't return to his job at Healthco until January 1992.

Mr. Corbett, who still lives in the couple's Silver Run home, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

A spokeswoman for Healthco declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Neighbors and civic groups organized dances and raffles in the months after the accident to raise more than $20,000 for the couple's medical bills and the children's funeral expenses.

Mr. Kantor declined to comment on the status of the Corbetts' relationship, except to say that the two are separated.

"This hasn't been easy for her," the attorney said. "She was seriously injured and her three children were killed in the accident. She's been devastated."

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